Here it is, warts and all. The Bags live at The Middle East, Cambridge, MA 10/12/2014. Video by Glenn Gardner, Joan Hathaway, and Walter Keenan. Live mix by Carl Plaster.
Tag Archive: Dropout
What follows are the original liner notes that Bags producer/live soundman extraordinaire Carl Plaster wrote for the band’s self-titled sophomore LP, which, in case you weren’t paying attention, is now available in CD and digital formats with bonus tracks via Stanton Park, CD Baby, and iTunes. While they might be dated, I think these liner notes important, historical documentation of the making of the record and the state of The Bags at the time the record was made. It stands as a fun read; when I transcribed it recently, I included everything except for the cheeb stains on my copy’s dust jacket. Take it away, Carl…
Tim Kelly, WMBR’s Late Risers’ Club
I fucked up. I should have kept my big, fat mouth shut, but I didn’t. I was talking with the guys about cover art and stuff during one of those ominous band meetings when I suggested that they ought to have some liner notes. Jon, in an act of infinite wisdom sadism, suggested that I be responsible for them. I don’t know where my mind was, no doubt thinking more about the lack of good snacks in their apartment or something, but for the life of me I can’t think of how I ever agreed to do this. In any case, I committed, so here I am, filling space while you are hopefully kicking back and enjoying this bub.
I guess you could say that these liner notes are part of what can almost be called an “Anti-CD” package. There’s no question that CD’s sound great, but don’t you think the packaging really sucks? The fact is, as far as cover art is concerned, you can have a lot more fun with a 12″ piece of cardboard than a 5″ jewel box, and with the record companies making fewer and fewer LP’s and more and more CD’s, the chance of coming across packages like Billion Dollar Babies, Quadrophenia, or even Zen Arcade seem less and less likely. With that in mind, the band wanted to make the most of the 12″ format, seeing as there’s no way of knowing how long said format will continue to exist. It’s a scary thought – a world without vinyl. So as part of this “pursuit of a package”, I’m writing this blurb for you folks. With that explained, I might as well get on to the music.
The guys didn’t want to print lyrics, but I had to make some sort of reference to the songs, so I figured a quickie running commentary might do the trick, while also giving you a little insight into the method behind the mess. So here goes…
BAGPIPE Nice “off and running…” sort of start. Simultaneously self-explanatory and nonsensical. You figure it out. I assume all the responsibility for the cannon shit at the beginning.
EVIL WaffleAss toms by Ludwig, wash cycle by Maytag. I know there’s a guitar in there somewhere, but I sure as hell can’t find it. Subsequently I remixed the song, cranked up the “Gi-tahh’s” and made the whole thing sound a lot raunchier, but the guys couldn’t get themselves to part with the stuipid-sick toms and the neat-o flange, so the original mix stands. What the hey, it’s a pop song. Line item veto courtesy of Crispin.
BEAUTY OF THE BUD Motthava’s (see end of liner notes) worst nightmare come to life. Destined to take its place amongst such classics as “Tom Dooley” and “Cum-Bay-Ya” as one of the favorite campfire songs of all time.
ATOMIC COCONUTS “Take two point fiiiiiive…” Can’t offer much of a defense for this one, it’s pretty silly, no two ways around it. Cool headphone stuff, in any case.
DROPOUT Crispin’s guitar, which has been laying low since getting the shaft on “Evil”, comes roaring out of the background and basically squashes everything in its path, meaning drums, vocals, bass, engineers’ eardrums, whatever. Eq’d and mixed for maximum pain, only a true maso can listen to this one cranked.
RIP YOU DOWN A gem of a non-sequitor, a “kinder, gentler” alternative to ending the side with “Dropout”, which would’ve been way too obvious.
DUMMY Who said Mountain didn’t influence anyone? Nice Gargle-matic vocals in part two.
THOUSAND ACRE WOODS Taken literally, you’d think it was about a plane crash, but it’s not. Besides, after Bloodrock and Lockerbie there’s no sense in trying to get any more mileage out of the “plane” angle but that’s another story. Anyway, this is about as ponderous as it gets, folks, but then again there’s Barb Jones.
SUPERPOWER A first taker, with vocals overdubbed later. Truly bizarre guitar sound, eh? Thanks to Joe Harvard for the fuzz boxes. Don’t sweat the indecipherable lyrics, they’re buried for a reason.
TAKE IT OR LEAVE IT Angst-ridden Odorono, fer sure. Seriously, though, while the other Plum studios stuff (Atomic Coconuts, Rip You Down, Thousand Acre Woods) was done in one or two takes, this one took like seven or eight. Don’t ask me why.
CLOSER THEN Power ballad, yes. Standard fare, no way. Plunkmaster bass tone thanks to a vintage Epiphone bass with old strings. On this one, Crispin is added to the long list of distinguished “Axemen” ( you’ve got to use the quotes when you use Berklee jargon) who’ve utilized the much ballyhooed Fort Apache electric sitar (it’s a Coral of course). At first, I thought the sitar was a sucky idea, but what can I say, I was wrong.
SWOG Last but definitely not least. When in doubt, pile it on and pile it on thick! With the overdub count reaching Stasiumesque proportions, Lou was definitely earning his pay on this one. Actually, it took three of us to run the mix when you get right down to it. Special guests Swamp Oaf appear courtesy of Stanton Park records. How convenient.
Well, that just about does it for the music. For those of you who bought this expecting “Rock Starve – The Sequel”, this record might be a bit of a shock, and it’s meant to be. One of our goals was to explore some new territory with the songs and the sounds, and to try to go easy on the generic AOR sonic boom. Combating potential aural monotony was easy, since the songs were pretty dissimilar to begin with, and on top of that they were recorded at three different places. With the exception of a few that shall remain nameless, the songs were each mixed in a couple of hours to keep them sounding fresh and loose.
Let’s see, what else is there… Gear! Actually, I’m not much of a fan of those celebrity equipment lists you see in the music mags, but there are some interesting events involved as well as some interesting toys, so why not?
Right before we were due to record at the Fort last June, Jim had his drums stolen out of the van, and had to scramble to buy a set of used Ludwigs to track with. A few months later, just before we went in to record at Plum, I found most of Jim’s stolen drums at an outdoor flea market out by Great Woods. As cheesy and trashed as they are, they’re still pretty great, and getting them back was a serious psychological boost. Not surprisingly, we used them for the Plum stuff.
Jon played a variety of basses, partially due to the fact that his Squier Jazz bass bought the farm during that midair collision at Citi, and also because there was a lot of fun stuff lying around the Fort, and we couldn’t just let it sit there. Just for the record, there was the Squier Jazz, a Gibson Thunderbird, a ’64 P-bass, an old Epiphone like Colin Moulding played in the “Urggh!” movie, a Guild acoustic bass, and a Guild Starfire that Drew Townson aptly named the Electric Tuba.
Crispin pretty much stuck to his guns, that being the strat thru Marshall and oddball Peavy cabinet.
The tracks were recorded at Fort Apache in Cambridge, Plum Studios in Newburyport, and Downtown Recorders in Boston. Everything except “Rip You Down” was mixed at the Fort at various times over the last few months. The Plum sessions served as a promising introduction to Neve recording (beware Barb Jones). Thanks to Richard Teigen at Plum for getting the job done fast.
Special thanks also go to Drew Townson for recording the majority of the vocals on the Plum stuff (at Downtown Recorders), as well as mixing “Rip You Down” in ultra-cool minimalist fashion. Keep your eyes open for Drew on the upcoming Foul Balls release, and also keep your eyes open for Motthava, the unsuspecting studio assistant who had a bit too much of the hi-test during one of those all-niters at Newbury, and hasn’t been seen since. “I felt torn and I felt spun…” While on the subject of Newbury, thanks for the warm hospitality Ken.
And of course, thanks to Lou for gargantuan technical and creative input on this thing (that means doing a lot of engineering, mixing, and critiquing). We would have been in big trouble if he hadn’t been in on it from the start.
Informative thanks to Emily for telling me about that movie with the guy dressed up like a box of Cream Of Wheat during the dream sequence. I haven’t found it but I’m still looking.
At the risk of making a clichéd, philosophical statement, this record is dedicated to the notion that no matter how seriously the average buff takes his music, it’s only rock music, and you can’t take it all that seriously.
For those of you who have been waiting for this slab, sorry it took so long, and for the uninitiated, welcome. But enough of the pointless rambling. I’m outta here. Oh yeah, one more thing. Do yourself a favor and don’t ask Pete Ryan about tape worm stories. You’ll wish you hadn’t.
THE BAGS ’89 is a collection of performances never before released in digital form. Here’s the track listing.
From The Bags LP: Bagpipe / Evil / Beauty of the Bud / Atomic Coconuts / Dropout / Rip You Down / Dummy / 1000 / Acre Woods / Superpower / Take It Or Leave It / Closer Then / Swog
Unreleased Tracks from 1989:
Volume Freak / China Doll
From the 1989 Stanton Park 45:
Hide and Seek / I Know
Some original press:
“With the grade-A snarl and swagger of their self-titled second album, the Boston raunchers the Bags are shoo-ins for Kings of Garageland 1990. At their best, the Bags rip it up like the Meat Puppets-meet-Motorhead, a marriage surely made in bar-band heaven.” – David Fricke, Rolling Stone
“Bagpipe, Evil, and Dummy all storm from the speakers in a surge of hardcore energy, but there is an extra weight to the rhythm section, a wilder mania to the guitar, that wasn’t present on Rock Starve.
While trading off vocals from song to song, both Wood and Hardy now display a fearsome mastery of the lower, louder regions of the voice box. Powered by this vocal prowess, Beauty of the Bud is a crushing rock stomp, not an ode to Anheuser-Busch but a song written from the point of view of a non-believer in the benefits of smokable drugs. Atomic Coconuts is a ridiculously catchy jumble of funk and nonsense that Janota claims is about sex or drugs or, most likely, nothing. Huge and ominous, Thousand Acre Woods, Closer Then, and Rip You Down (on which Wood expresses a preference for Hell as an address) tread the fine line between introspective hard rock and nightmare.
But it’s not until the record’s final track that the Oaf completely rears its head. Swog proudly devours five minutes of vinyl in a conglomeration of psychotic vocals and instrumental grunge. This is the Bags at their most glorious.” – Polly Campbell, Boston Phoenix
If there is one Bags album that you need to hear, it is their sophomore effort, 1990’s eponymous full-length. Sure, their 1988 Restless debut, Rock Starve, was great. It was chock full of classic originals like “Pioneer,” “Try It,” “Tailbone,” and “Love Sick Dianne”, which made official the mark The Bags were making on the Boston rock map, and earning them well-deserved critical acclaim, both locally and nationally. Problem was, you had to see The Bags live (or listen really, really carefully) to know that, for all of Rock Starve’s worth, the production — solid enough, but ultimately too murky on the low end and too splashy on the high — obscured the real, unfuckwithable power of this formidable trio.
It wasn’t until The Bags cut their ties with Restless, enlisted budding sound engineer Carl Plaster (if there ever was a “fourth Bag,” it was/is Carl), and took their arsenal to local garage label Stanton Park that Bags records actually started SOUNDING like the mind-crunching powerhouse the band had always been. First came the “Hide And Seek”/”I Know” single, a two-headed monster of heavy sludge clobber and hooky, dynamic punk pop craftsmanship that teased at the shape of things to come. Then they gave us the record: The Bags. It didn’t need a title. This, make no mistake, was The Bags. (I’ll get to where Swamp Oaf fit in to the whole picture when my pitch to the 33 1/3 book series gets approved…)
When bass player Jon Hardy asked me to “write a little blurb for the CD Baby page,” I obliged immediately, not realizing what a daunting task I’d face. But when I asked him what he was looking for, he came back with a killer: “Just five or six sentences.” It was then that I knew, crystal clear, the sadism Carl Plaster referred to when the band enlisted him to write the original liner notes for the album nearly 20 years ago. Six sentences? Are you SHITTING ME?!? I could Lester Bangs this album into the parenthetical stratosphere! This is the Holy Grail of the Bags catalogue. This is the gateway drug to the band. I have made countless Bags brainwash tapes for friends over the years — shit, I wore out a couple of copies of the original, vinyl-only pressing, with the first verses of “Bagpipe” mired by irreparable scratch-induced skips on the first dozen-odd tapes. This record in its blessed entirety is the crucial “how-to-GET-The-Bags” cornerstone.
I’ve been racking my brain for a way to avoid that necessary-evil thing that music critics (myself included) feel compelled to do: the laundry list of comparisons. Every time I start concocting something like, say, “If Jimi Hendrix lived to see The Ramones (or, better – LaPeste)…” I stop, because it ultimately misses the mark. Basically, the point is that these guys were punk rockers who grew up on the heavier rock of the 60s and 70s, and their music reflected both worlds. The Bags weren’t the only band that was blurring those lines and stretching the bounds of genre at the time — thankfully, that approach to rock-making continues to this day with “stoner rock”. But they were among the first to not only try it but get it so damn right. This record captures the core essence of this remarkable band.
And now, after how many years out of print? 16? 17? It’s available, finally, again.
Tim Kelly, WMBR’s Late Risers’ Club